22 Hit Songs Musicians Hate Playing Live
From "Like a Virgin" to "Speed of Sound," don't expect to hear these songs at their next show.
Skirt around it all you want, but you buy concert tickets for one reason: to see your favorite bands play their biggest hits. But sadly, not every musician likes playing the songs that made them famous. In fact, some downright hate doing so, and will steadfastly refuse to play them, no matter how loudly fans clamor for a live rendition. Want to avoid those hefty ticket prices and some major disappointment? Here are the songs rock legends, grunge pioneers, pop princesses, and more refuse to play in concert.
"Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton
In recent years, Eric Clapton has, in fact, included "Tears in Heaven" on his set lists, but the song is still widely thought of as one he will never play. Fans assumed that was because of the intense emotional pain associated with the track, which was written as a way for Clapton to process his grief following the tragic death of his four-year-old son in 1991. But when the artist initially retired "Tears in Heaven" 15 years ago—along with "My Father's Eyes," another song about his son—he said it was actually because he no longer felt the loss. "[The songs] probably need a rest," he told Today in 2004. "Maybe I'll introduce them from a much more detached point of view."
"I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry
Katy Perry has evolved since she burst onto the music scene with "I Kissed a Girl" in 2008—and so has the culture at large. In a 2018 interview with Glamour, Perry acknowledged that the song contains stereotypes that have certainly not aged well. "We've really changed, conversationally, in the past 10 years," she said. "We've come a long way. Bisexuality wasn't as talked about back then, or any type of fluidity."
If she had to do it all over again, Perry noted that she'd rewrite the song, so perhaps we have a more woke version to look forward to on a future LP.
"(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" by Beastie Boys
The problem with the first major Beastie Boys single is that listeners missed the point entirely. The song was ironic—and everyone took it way too seriously. For a while, the group went along with the joke, even filming a music video that kept up the schtick, but they stopped performing the song altogether in 1987. The problem, as they explained to NPR in a 2011 interview, was that they themselves had started to forget that "Fight for Your Right" was intended as parody, and were giving in to the drunken frat boy stereotype they'd been mocking. "It's almost like we started out kind of like goofing on it," said the late Adam Yauch, "but then just sort of became it, in a way."
"Wonderwall" by Oasis
Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher has never been one to avoid speaking his mind, so it's not really a surprise that he's been so open about his hatred for "Wonderwall," the bang's biggest hit. "Every time I have to sing it I want to gag," Gallagher told MTV News in 2008. "Problem is, it was a big, big tune for us. You go to America and they're like: 'Are you Mr. Wonderwall?' You want to chin someone."
"Creep" by Radiohead
When you think of hit songs that bands hate playing live, "Creep," Radiohead's melancholic grunge rock hit, is probably the first that comes to mind. In recent years, however, they've apparently softened on it a bit. After they lightly reintroduced the song to their set list—it popped up on the tour for 2016's A Moon Shaped Pool—guitarist Ed O'Brien told Rolling Stone in 2017, "It's a good song. It's nice to play for the right reasons. People like it and want to hear it."
Still, O'Brien noted that, for the most part, they avoid it. And lead singer Thom Yorke, who said the band only played "Creep" once or twice that year, admitted he sometimes wants to quit playing it halfway through.
"Big Me" by Foo Fighters
The iconic video for "Big Me," by the Foo Fighters, parodied a Mentos commercial—and fans never let the band forget it. Frontman Dave Grohl complained that they couldn't play the song without fans pelting them with Mentos. "We did a show in Canada and, in the middle of the song, someone threw a pack, and it hit me right in the face," he recalled in a 2005 interview. "I was so [expletive]!"
"Like a Virgin" by Madonna
Everyone but Madonna seems obsessed with her age: the pop legend is still making new music and selling out massive venues and all-around exhibiting an irrepressible exuberance. Nevertheless, the idea of the now 65-year-old diva doing "Like a Virgin" doesn't feel right to her. In 2008, she told a New York radio station that she could no longer do it (or another early single, "Holiday"). "I just can't—unless somebody paid me like $30 million," she joked.
"Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin
While Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980, lead singer Robert Plant has spent the last few decades touring with his solo projects, and the song is not on his set list. He explained his reticence fairly succinctly in a 1988 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "I'd break out in hives if I had to sing that song in every show," Plant said. "I wrote those lyrics and found that song to be of some importance and consequence in 1971, but, 17 years later, I don't know. It's just not for me." And 52 years later, it's still not.
"Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders
Though "Brass in Pocket" was The Pretenders' first big hit, lead singer Chrissie Hynde has never been a fan. "I never thought it was that great," she said in a 2016 interview. She didn't like the way the song sounded ("I used to cringe when I heard my voice"), she hated the way people took it to be a "girl power" song, and she didn't love her significantly less "girl power" role in the music video. The band, which officially reunited in 2016, may still perform the song, but that doesn't mean Hynde's opinion on it has changed.
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana
Fans who saw Nirvana back in the day might have been disappointed not to hear the grunge masters' biggest hit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Rolling Stone reported that at one show in particular, the omission inspired a "loud chorus of boos." But lead singer Kurt Cobain, who died by suicide in 1994, told the magazine that his discomfort with fame and the overwhelming success of the song made playing it "an embarrassment." "I can barely, especially on a bad night like tonight, get through 'Teen Spirit,'" he said. "I literally want to throw my guitar down and walk away. I can't pretend to have a good time playing it."
Oh, and then there was the infamous 1992 performance in Buenos Aires. The audience wasn't feeling Nirvana's opening act, Calamity Jane—an all-female grunge punk band—and booed them off the stage. Appalled at the blatant sexism, Cobain and company started every song on set by playing the opening riff to "Smells Like Teen Spirit"…before playing an obscure B-side, repeatedly teasing the audience without giving them what they wanted. The entire show, not a single radio-friendly hit was played. "That … whole set [was] one of the greatest experiences I've ever had," Cobain later said.
"Shiny Happy People" by R.E.M.
While R.E.M. broke up in 2011, lead singer Michael Stipe has been spreading the word about a new solo project. But if you end up seeing him on tour, don't expect to hear a rendition of R.E.M.'s 1991 smash, "Shiny Happy People." Though he's refrained from explicitly badmouthing the song—which, fun side note, was almost the theme song for Friends— Stipe is clearly not a fan. In a 2003 interview, he said the song "has limited appeal for me," but added, "there might be someone out there who hears that to whom that song means everything, to whom that song represents something in their life which is essential—and I don't want to take that from them."
"Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor
Sometimes, artists quietly remove songs from their set lists; sometimes, they make an actual announcement. That's what the late Sinead O'Connor did in a since taken-down 2015 Facebook post, in which she explained that she would no longer be singing her biggest hit, because she wasn't able to emotionally identify with it. "If I were to sing it just to please people, I wouldn't be doing my job right, because my job is to be emotionally available," she wrote. "I'd be lying. You'd be getting a lie."
That said, when she was able to tap into emotional honesty for the song, she'll belt it to the rafters. Case in point: During a rare September 2019 appearance on The Late Late Show, O'Connor sang "Nothing Compares 2 U" as a tribute to the late, great, incomparable Prince (who wrote the song).
"Misery Business" by Paramore
"Misery Business" was an inescapable hit during the summer of 2007, but the song's lyrics have troubled listeners over the years. One lyric in particular—"Once a [expletive], you're nothing more"—has come under fire for being anti-feminist. Lead singer Hayley Williams acknowledged that she's grown since she wrote the song, saying, "I was a 17-year-old kid when I wrote the lyrics in question, and if I can somehow exemplify what it means to grow up, get information, and become any shade of 'woke,' then that's a-OK with me." For a while, Paramore performed the song with the offending lyrics excised, but, in 2018, the band decided to retire it from their set list entirely.
"Daddy" by Korn
"Daddy" has never been an easy song for Korn lead singer Jonathan Davis to perform, and with good reason: It's about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. The album version ends with Davis breaking down in tears, and, for years, the band wouldn't perform "Daddy" live. So it was news in 2015 when Korn introduced the song back into their set list after two decades. "It's not going to affect me like it did back then," Davis said. "I've buried that. I'm just going to play the song for the people that need it."
"Speed of Sound" by Coldplay
In a 2016 interview, Howard Stern asked Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin if any of the band's misfires became massive hits–and he pointed this X & Y lead single. "I think we just did a [bad] recording," he said of "Speed of Sound." Beyond that, though, Martin must not be fond of the song, which Coldplay has only played live a handful of times over the last several years.
"Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus
How much does Miley Cyrus hate her earworm of a single, "Party in the U.S.A."? In 2011, Page Six reported that the pop star once asked a DJ to play any of her songs—but not that one. And when Jimmy Fallon tested her "Name That Song" skills in 2018 on The Tonight Show, she didn't even recognize it. Maybe it's because she never really connected to the lyrics. Cyrus infamously said in 2009 that she didn't know which Jay-Z song her track referenced because she'd never actually heard one.
"Jack and Diane" by John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp knows his fans want to hear the "little ditty about Jack and Diane," but the song's troubled history has somewhat soured him on it. You see, "Jack and Diane" was originally about an interracial couple, but that didn't jive well with record execs originally, Mellencamp told HuffPost in 2014. Though he plays it at (some of) his concerts, he's downplayed the song's success over the years. "I don't take pride in the fact that one song was able to climb the charts and one song wasn't," he said in a 2005 interview. "I take pride in the fact that I was able to create these songs. That seems to be more important than the fact that this song was a hit or that song was a hit."
"Just the Way You Are," by Billy Joel
Billy Joel's 1977 hit "Just the Way You Are" isn't just one of his biggest singles ever—it's also one of his most romantic songs. But for several decades, the Piano Man denied couples who no doubt wanted to sway to the love song live. As he confessed in a 2008 interview with Mass Live, he and his band "almost left 'Just The Way You Are' off [The Stranger] because [they] really didn't like it that much." And that was before he split from his first wife, Elizabeth Weber, who inspired the track. From the mid-'80s to the mid-'00s, Joel rarely played the song at his concerts despite its success, because it dredged up some uncomfortable feelings about his divorce. And when he did in those early days, he told Charlie Rose, his drummer would change the lyrics to say, "She got the house, she got the car."
"Breakaway" by Kelly Clarkson
"Breakaway" is the title single of American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson's second album and a memorable part of the soundtrack to The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, making it a key piece of mid-'00s nostalgia for a lot of her fans. But the singer and talk show host herself is not a huge fan of the song, which was originally co-written by Avril Lavigne to potentially release herself. In a Buzzfeed video in which she ranked some of her best-known songs, Clarkson said that "A Moment Like This" (her Idol finale song) and "Breakaway" are her "two least favorites."
In a 2004 interview, per Hollywood.com, the star explained why she doesn't like to perform "Breakaway" live. "It's not that it's a bad song, it's just that it's not an exciting song as a vocalist," Clarkson said. Fair enough!
"Don't Let Me Get Me" by Pink
Pink released "Don't Let Me Get Me" as the second single from her 2001 sophomore album, Missundaztood, but she doesn't have much fondness for it. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in 2012, the star hinted that she had matured beyond the song, which is about a young woman who feels like she can't get anything right. "I wish I could burn that song and never sing it again," the pop star told the newspaper. "I'm … 32 years old."
"Hit Me With Your Best Shot," by Pat Benatar
Pat Benatar has both personal and societal reasons for cutting 1980's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," what some might say is her signature song, from her set list. Firstly, she had already felt a few years later that it was a part of her past. "There were certain parts of that song that I liked, but most of it that I've sort of outgrown. I mean, it's so hard to sing, 'You're a real tough cookie.' You don't know what … it's impossible," she told Songwriter Connection.
But years later, in 2022, the pop star announced that she was retiring the song for good because of the state of gun violence in the U.S. Though the title and lyrics were always intended to be metaphorical, Benatar told USA Today that she was cutting "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" "in deference to the victims of the families of these mass shootings."
"I can't say those words out loud with a smile on my face, I just can't," she added. "I'm not going to go on stage and soapbox—I go to my legislators—but that's my small contribution to protesting. I'm not going to sing it. Tough."
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones
Call this either a change of heart or just tempting fate: In 1975, per Yahoo!, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger told People, "I'd rather be dead than sing 'Satisfaction' when I'm 45.'" Well, the rocker is now 80, and he hasn't stopped singing the 1965 track yet.
Jagger wasn't alone however. In the 2022 docuseries My Life as a Rolling Stone, the singer recalled that guitarist Keith Richards lobbied for the song not to be released to radio. "'I don't really like it. It can't come out as a single,'" Jagger remembered his bandmate saying, per Classic Rock & Culture. "And it went to No. 1 like instantly."
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